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Packaging law 'changes attitudes'

Health experts in the first country to introduce plain packaging have welcomed the decision to have a Commons vote on enforcing it in the UK but warned of "ferocious" opposition from the tobacco industry.

Standardised packaging was introduced in Australia in December 2012 and has been hailed a great success.

Australian Treasury figures show a 3.4% drop in tobacco sales in 2013 alone.

Professor Mike Daube, president of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, said he was "delighted" at the move and said the UK's influence would be likely to make other countries follow suit.

"The impact has already been better than expected and we've seen changes in attitude," he said of Australia.

"Really importantly, we've seen none of the adverse effects that had been suggested."

He said the tobacco industry had come up with some "amazing claims" including that it would take longer for retailers to serve customers, and that smokers would end up shunning small shops for supermarkets.

However Prof Daube, who chaired the committee that recommended plain packaging, said all these issues failed to materialise including claims that the move would lead to a black market trade.

But he warned that tobacco lobbyists would still be likely to bring up the "same zombie arguments" in the UK.

"They've already been killed off in one country but they'll try and bring them back to life in another," he explained.

The professor of health policy at Curtin University in Perth said that in his 40 years of work: "I've never seen the tobacco industry become so ferocious as they were in opposition to plain packaging.

"They will fight this one pretty much to the death - and that's the best evidence you could get."

Paul Grogan, director of public policy at Cancer Council Australia, said plain packaging may even have the potential to be more effective than thought.

"The only independent analysis since it became mandatory in December 2012 shows that it's doing exactly as intended, which was to de-glamorise smoking and cigarettes, particularly to young people," he said.

"The intention was to deter people who haven't already smoked, but some of the research has indicated that it may even have a spin-off benefit with long-term addicted smokers."

Asked about opposition from the tobacco industry, he said: "If it wasn't such a serious issue their claims would be laughable."

A spokesman for British American Tobacco Australia described the legislation as a "failed policy" and said the company was calling for an open consultation on the issue, citing "alarming youth smoke rates and illegal tobacco statistics".

"Plain packaging is a failed policy which has seen a 36% jump in the number of 12 to 17-year-olds smoking nationally on a daily basis according to the Australian Government's own figures," he said.

"We highlighted to the former government our concerns that youth smoking rates would increase along with a boom in the illegal tobacco market."


From Belfast Telegraph